Are Omicron and Delta hybrids worrisome?

Are Omicron and Delta hybrids worrisome?

British health officials say they are closely monitoring a case of a hybrid infection between Omicron and Delta. Experts have yet to classify it as worrisome.

In the latest update of the British Health Security Agency, the hybrid strain between Delta and Omicron is being closely monitored and investigated by this country. Britain is the latest country to detect this mutant infection, more than a month after the warning about it was first raised.

Not many infections yet

According to Fox News, the British Health Security Agency said that the country’s authorities had recorded a case of a hybrid mutation between Delta and Omicron. It is also known as Deltacron.

New strains appeared in patients infected with both Omicron and Delta strains at the same time. However, experts are not sure if the appearance of the new strain first occurred in the UK or any other country before then spread to this country.

Besides the official announcement to monitor Deltacron, the UK Health Security Agency issued no other warnings. In general, the country’s health authorities are not particularly concerned about hybridization because the number of infections is not high.

Infectious disease expert Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, said Deltacron did not pose too much of a risk. Because most people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a certain level of immunity after being infected with nCoV.

New strain or lab error?

The world was first warned about Deltacron in early January. According to Bloomberg , the person who discovered this variant is Professor of Biological Sciences Leondios Kostrikis, University of Cyprus, Republic of Cyprus.

On January 7, he uploaded 52 gene sequencing samples to the GISAID database – where global experts share information about new viruses. The expert from Cyprus called them “Deltacron” because of its Omicron-like genetic markers in the Delta genome.

According to research from Professor Kostrikis, they discovered a total of 25 cases of this mutation after sequencing 1,377 gene samples in a program to find potential mutations of SARS-CoV-2 in Cyprus.

The expert said the frequency of detection of the hybrid variant was higher among hospitalized people. Therefore, they hypothesized a correlation between Deltacron and hospitalization rates. They also stress that it is too early to draw conclusions about the transmissibility or effects that the Deltacron strain may have.

“The detected cases suggest that an original strain experienced evolutionary pressure to acquire these mutations and that this is not the result of a single recombination event,” said Professor Kostrikis.

Professor Leondios Kostrikis, University of Cyprus, confirmed the presence of a hybrid between Omicron and Delta. However, many critics argue that this is only the result of laboratory contamination. Photo: NIH.

Before this information, the world scientists got involved and many conflicting opinions were given. Some claim that the 52 genetic samples sequenced by a team of experts in Cyprus is not a new strain and excludes the possibility that this is the result of a recombination process between the two viruses. They suggest that this phenomenon may be caused by contamination in the laboratory.

On January 9, a member of the Covid-19 technical team of the World Health Organization, Ms. Krutika Kuppelli, an expert at the Medical University of South Carolina (USA), tweeted: “There is no such thing as a Deltacron. Omicron and Delta do not create new super-variants.”

Sharing the same opinion, speaking to KHOU 11, Dr. Amesh Adalja, of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security (USA), confirmed that Deltacron is false information. “This appears to be the result of laboratory contamination and not a hybrid version of the virus.”

A few hours later, a representative of the group of authors from Cyprus spoke up. According to Professor Kostrikis, the number of Deltacron infections in hospitalized patients is higher than in the non-hospitalized group. Therefore, this rules out the contaminated laboratory hypothesis.

The point not to be missed is that the patient samples have been sequenced multiple times in more than one country. At least one sequence from Israel uploaded to a global database shows the genetic properties of Deltacron.

“These findings disprove unfounded claims that Deltacron was the result of a technical fault,” Kostrikis said in an email to Bloomberg.

To date, the debate on whether or not a Delta and Omicron hybrid is still unresolved. However, the emergence of new cases from the UK seems to be gradually proving the hypothesis of Prof. Kostrikis et al.

With the little information available, this is not a cause for concern. Experts are still quite cautious to add any further warnings about this particular variant.

Previously, Omicron was first detected in November 2021 and quickly spread around the world, displacing Delta in just a few weeks in most countries. Many studies show that Omicron causes milder disease.

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